Pocket Gunships

The Jordanian Airbus/ATK/KADBB C295 gunship is a fascinating study in delivering effects for a modest outlay.

Jordan has effective armed forces and a growing defence industry, especially the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB), but these two developments show an ability to obtain effective and ‘right sized’ capabilities at relatively modest costs.

In 2011 JADBB and ATK announced a development partnership that would seek to convert two C235 transport aircraft into AC-235 light gunships.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 19, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — ATK (NYSE: ATK) announced it has received a contract from the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB) of the Kingdom of Jordan to modify two of the country’s CASA-235 transport aircraft into highly-capable and cost-effective special mission aircraft, according to the combined modification designs of both KADDB and ATK.  Subject to U.S. government export licensing approval, the modified aircraft are expected to be delivered by the late spring of 2013.  Terms of the contract were not announced.

ATK’s special mission aircraft offerings integrate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors, fire control equipment, and a LW30mm link-fed gun system.  These capabilities are controlled by ATK’s STAR Mission System which provides both day and night reconnaissance and fire control capabilities, and the ability to acquire, monitor and track items of interest.  The CASA-235 gunship provides customers an enhanced capability to conduct responsive defense, counterinsurgency, and border surveillance and security missions.

“Weaponized aircraft is an emerging international opportunity specifically tailored for ATK’s unique capabilities,” said Mike Kahn, President of ATK Missile Products Group. “Our expertise in mission systems architecture and design, and aircraft integration and certification of complex subsystems positions us well for growth in this area.”

“Since its inception, KADDB has established itself as the preferred global partner in the Middle East for the defence industry, initially in land systems, and most recently in aircraft modification. KADDB is well situated and experienced with all the required technical knowledge and infrastructure to move into this field,” said “Shadi Ramzi” Majali, KADDB Chairman and CEO.   “We are proud to embark with our well recognized and esteemed partner ATK to modify aircraft for the Jordan Armed Forces and the MENA region, and look forward to establishing this capability in Jordan.”

“We are pleased to partner with the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau of Jordan to develop and enhance the military aircraft capability for the Jordan Armed Forces,” said Robert Faille, ATK Director of International Business Development for the Middle East & Africa region.

For the KADDB on behalf of the Jordan Armed Forces, ATK will install and integrate electro-optical targeting systems, a laser designator, aircraft self-protection equipment, and an armaments capability that includes Hellfire laser-guided missiles, 2.75-inch rockets, and a M230 link-fed 30mm chain gun.  ATK’s M230 family of guns serves on the Apache helicopter.

ATK’s scope of work includes development, systems integration, aircraft modification, and testing.  Work will be performed in Jordan and at ATK facilities in Fort Worth, TX, Mesa, AZ and Pelham, AL.

Although the light gunship represents KADDB’s first endeavor in aircraft modification, it lays the foundation for further potential growth with experienced partners to accommodate Jordan and the MENA region’s requirements.

The light gunship capability package is the latest addition to ATK’s Special Mission Aircraft product portfolio, which provides affordable, responsive and advanced capabilities to customer-preferred platforms. ATK’s expertise includes outfitting various aircraft — including Cessna Caravans, Lockheed Martin C-130s, Bombardier Dash-8s, Hawker Beechcraft King Airs and others — with integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.

After much development effort the two aircraft were delivered to Jordan in March and May 2014, ready for the SOFEX trade show.

In addition to the m230LF 30mm chain gun, Hellfire II missiles and unguided 2.75″ rockets, the BAE APKWS guided rocket had also been integrated.

The aircraft were fitted with a range of defensive systems, MX-15 electro optical sensor, Thales I Master SAR/GMTI (same as Watchkeeper) selected armouring and various tactical communications systems.

AC-235 Light Gunship
AC-235 Light Gunship

Click here for the brochure

AC-235 Light Gunship
AC-235 Light Gunship

With a full weapons load the AC-235 has a range in excess of 4,000km.

It seems like KADBB, ATK and Airbus did a great job on the AC-235 because soon after taking delivery Jordan announced intent to push forward with a C295 conversion.

June 2014 press release from Airbus

Today His Royal Highness Prince Feisal bin Al Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan attended the announcement that the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB), ATK and Airbus Defence and Space signed an agreement to cooperatively work together on a C295 gunship version.

A C295 currently operated by Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) will be converted to gunship by ATK of the USA and join two AC-235 gunships that were delivered to Jordan by ATK at SOFEX.

The AC-295 gunship configuration will be based on the AC-235 Light Gunship which includes integrated mission and fire control systems, electro-optical and radar sensors, Hellfire missiles, ATK’s side-mounted M230 30mm chain gun, an integrated defensive suite and 2.75 inch guided rockets.

Head of Commercial for Military Aircraft, Antonio Rodriguez Barberán said: “We greatly appreciate Jordan’s continued confidence in our aircraft and look forward to supporting the industrial partners involved in this programme which will result in a cost-effective and powerful addition to the Jordan Armed Forces.”

A small fleet of C235/295 would provide the UK with a flexible tactical transport aircraft, VIP, ISTAR, Gunship, parachute training and possibly a maritime patrol capability.

So here is the question, if the AC-235 has DAS, EO/Target Designator, SAR/GMTI, Hellfire, 70mm laser guided rockets and ATK M230 30mm cannon, what is the difference in flight and acquisition costs between it and an Apache?

Just asking, you know, what with decisions on Apache Block III looming.

Basically, the AC-235 is a fixed wing Apache, or perhaps more accurately, a fixed wing Hind.

Am not proposing we bin the Apache upgrade but split purchase, keep Apache for when austere location and amphibious operations are needed and use the money saved from a smaller Apache upgrade and purchase a dozen or so C295/235. They fit perfectly beneath the A400M and deliver the same capability as the Apache when operating from large main operating bases like Bastion. Plus of course, a range of extra capabilities like VIP, tactical transport, air despatch and ISTAR when not in the gunship role.







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The Limey
The Limey
October 7, 2014 8:50 am

@TD – surely the big difference (to the Hind especially) is the lack of armour? Surely these things are only of any use in a counter-insurgency (or civil war) situation, and would be quickly downed if anybody around has MANPADS.

October 7, 2014 9:13 am

Limey, think it’s the other way round, it’s safe if the enemy only has MANPADs by flying out of their reach. If the enemy has something nastier…

There are basically 2 ways to do air support, high level and low level. High level is if the threat is low, like the MANPADs mentioned, so you fly out of their reach and poke them to death. Low level is if the threat level is high, with high altitude SAMs like the S-400 etc. To counter that, you have to go in very low and use hills and trees to block their radar. That is basically the difference between this and the AH. One goes high, the other goes low.

This plane however, I’d call it a “patrol plane” rather than something used for bombings and raids. They’ll probably use this to patrol the border and plink any targets they might come across opportunistically rather than use them as pure gunships.

October 7, 2014 9:52 am

Lose/flog about fifteen Apache’s
Buy around 20 C295 for RAF, MPA/TRANS/Tactical,GUNSHIP (True purple asset!)
Move the Wildcats to the Navy
Give the Army the Puma’s but replace them long term with AW149…

The Other Chris
October 7, 2014 10:27 am

Wildcat for Apache replacement. Cost savings towards a serious Puma replacement.

Peter Elliott
October 7, 2014 10:41 am

One of the things we use Apache for is escorting transport helicopters. Not sure C-295 could go slow and low enough to do this effectively.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
October 7, 2014 10:56 am

I thought even the AC-130’s were extremely vunerable to ground fire, as they need to slowly circle a target at low altitude.

October 7, 2014 12:09 pm

‘Wildcat for Apache replacement. Cost savings towards a serious Puma replacement.’

Army Wildcat immediately mothballed and the money saved spent on Apache upgrade and look for a puma and Lynx MK9A replacement.

The Other Chris
October 7, 2014 12:31 pm

Still not seen a reasoned any discussion of AH-64E capability delivery beyond what a far more modest investment in Wildcat could achieve and surpass.

Do we have another Sacred Cow here in Apache?

October 7, 2014 12:50 pm

TOC, mast mounted radar. :)

AH-64s are designed to be anti-tank ambush hunters, the Wildcats and Lynxes have a naval origin and the design differences show.

Not to say it can’t be done, but as in all cases, there are tradeoffs. I’d say it really is up to the individual country to decide if the tradeoffs are worth it,

October 7, 2014 12:57 pm

This video is not too bad at explaining the improvements.


Basically put, the Apache block 3 upgrade makes the aircraft both a better attack helicopter and battlefield surveillance system than Wildcat and in addition control UAV’s.

“The Link 16 enables the Apache to receive information from the command-and-control platforms, such as the [Airborne Early Warning and Control System] AWACS and [Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System] JSTARS, and enables it to share this data with all the other services, making it more efficient at locating and prosecuting targets,” Col Hager.

The sacred cow is Augusta Westland.

October 7, 2014 12:58 pm

Interesting setup, I would however be eager to see the benefits over, for example, a super Tucano, or similar equipped aircraft with the FLIR camera and the weapons hanging off the stub wings of this C-265. In terms of vulnerability this would to my mind be somewhat more vulnerable than an AC-130 as that has gun systems generally firing at higher velocities to longer ranges that should largely keep them out of the range of MANPADS and small to medium calibre AAA. If the 30mm gun in this aircraft is out of the apache It will be a much shorter ranged and less accurate weapon and is likely to be vulnerable to return fire. I couldn’t see this as an apache replacement in anything except a COIN scenario in which case I would refer back to my previous point of what are the benefits of this over existing COIN aircraft. In summary it seems to be a combination of all the worst aspects of the AC-130, Super Tucano and Apache.

October 7, 2014 1:01 pm

Shack, that is why my comment on a “patrol aircraft”, it’s probably a border surveillance plane and not an attack aircraft. Think armed Sentinel.

October 7, 2014 1:02 pm

“AH-64s are designed to be anti-tank ambush hunters”

I think one could argue that concept has still to prove its viability ..at least against a competent , reasonly well trained and equipped enemy.

As a support asset for COIN operations , the Apache is hard to beat though.

October 7, 2014 1:19 pm

“(…)flight hour cost of (…) US$1,750 for the C-295. The report concluded that the C-295 has a mission effectiveness ratio of 86.1% (…)”

The Apache costs roughly twice that, but different operators get often grossly differing operating costs, not the least because of very different industrial support contracts. Even readiness rates and maintenance man-hours per flying hour vary much.
The fuel consumption is the only easily comparable metric.

The C295 doubles as cargo/passenger aircraft and could be modified as tanker and even peacetime intel platform with quick change packages.

The Other Chris
October 7, 2014 1:20 pm

Is there significant improvement between mast and nose? One could be added…

Can a Wildcat (Brimstone, SPEAR 3) “ambush a tank”?

Tactical Processor can accommodate both Bowman and Link16 cards and terminals (and more).

Faster platform with greater range, more flexibility (cargo/troops/medevac/casevac…), an expanded performance envelope and greater growth potential built-in (likely an optionally manned version), an AESA that outperforms Longbow, far cheaper flying hour cost…

Can Apache be brought beyond a bare minimum safety specification when operating from a flat-top?

It’s important that these considerations are made. Why is Apache Guardian “better”? What roles is it being asked to do and why is its fulfilment of these roles superior? It needs to be justified with a competent challenger waiting in the wings, regardless of manufacturer.

It can’t rely on it’s laurels (as per A-10).

October 7, 2014 1:50 pm

MKP, I’ll ask Putin to roll an armoured column into Germany for us to test the concept on. :)

Have to admit that is true though, the AH-64 was designed for a scenario which did not come to pass, basically, Soviet armoured columns rolling into Europe.

TOC, it comes back down into concept of operation. The AH-64 was designed to hide behind a hill or trees with only the radar mast sticking out so that it can “see” the enemy while the enemy can’t see it. A nose mounted radar would force the helicopter to fly out of cover before it can see the enemy, but in return, the enemy can see it too. This was the “ambush hunter” part I mentioned. Think of the Apache as a flying sniper.

October 7, 2014 1:54 pm

Is there significant improvement between mast and nose?

The Army Wildcat does not have a radar.

One could be added…’Can a Wildcat (Brimstone, SPEAR 3) “ambush a tank”?’

After spending more money.
But this is the point upgrade an expensive new airframe or upgrade an existing expensive airframe to bring the expensive new airframe up to a similar capability as the old. The Apache is a more capable attack airframe and will be just as capable a surveillance asset after block 3, although I’d argue that it is a more capable surveillance asset now with Longbow than the Wildcat.

If we really wanted a light utility helicopter we would have bought the EC645 or similar for less money.

‘Faster platform with greater range, more flexibility (cargo/troops/medevac/casevac…), an expanded performance envelope and greater growth potential built-in (likely an optionally manned version), an AESA that outperforms Longbow, far cheaper flying hour cost…It needs to be justified with a competent challenger waiting in the wings, regardless of manufacturer.’

Then wait and be the launch customer for the SB>1 Defiant.

The Other Chris
October 7, 2014 2:08 pm

Is the concept more or less redundant? The aircraft had to pop up to launch (launching vehicle) and pop up and linger (targeting vehicle) in order to paint for Hellfire. Millimetre seekers on the Hellfire improve this situation, and if Brimstone can be integrated instead that makes a huge difference to Apache… that’s also available to Wildcat. Combine with longer ranged and more discriminating radars with tougher (and more easily updated) DAS.

We’ll be spending more on Guardian whether we reuse airframes or not than we would purchasing new build Wildcats (NAO) and I don’t think anyone argues over the running costs. That leaves a large margin for integration on Wildcat. It’s just a platform.

Army Wildcat is Navy Wildcat and vice-versa. Literally with a different pluggable nose wheel and other modules not plugged in. the manufacturers can take a Navy/Army Wildcat and convert in a five days[1].

When you’ve ridden an Apache you become a fan, guaranteed. Just do not let sentiment cloud procurement judgement. If it’s a call between Apache and maybe a half-arsed Puma replacement (if any) or a Wildcat and whole-hearted Puma replacement[2], what should we go for?

[1] http://www.wescam.com/wp-content/uploads/IDR_Sept2010reprint-6PPpdf.pdf

[2] The Puma replacement being the place for SB>1 Defiant or V-280 Valo(u)r for example.

The Other Chris
October 7, 2014 2:14 pm

(Been hit by spam filter sorry, looks like a lot of Ugg adverts swamped in at a similar time that I posted. Will wait for TD).

October 7, 2014 2:17 pm

‘That leaves a large margin for integration on Wildcat.’

So what do you actually gain if you have to spend a shed load of cash to add all the whistles and bells to make the airframe a capable attack asset? If the Wildcat was coming into service with all the systems already integrated then I’d see your point, but at the moment it sounds like spending a tenner to save a quid.

‘Just do not let sentiment cloud procurement judgement’

I’m not, if we mothballed Wildcat immediately we could have a whole hearted Puma replacement and probably some money to add to the Apache upgrade pot.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
October 7, 2014 2:27 pm

I thought the point of the Apache that it was armoured so that it could get up close and personal. If we started using Wildcat in this role, how long would it be until people started saying we need to add armour to it.

October 7, 2014 2:30 pm

I am still figuring out if I am missing the point of it really. Sentinels job is essentially to lug the JSTARS radar up to altitude and do the wide area battle management job. This seems an attempt to get a decent FLIR/EO turret into the air for and over watch role and have a pop at targets of opportunity, a role we (the UK) already have filled by reaper (and to a lesser extent by the Army’s King Air’s,) and if you were desperate for a manned option could be done cheaper by a dedicated COIN aircraft. The only role it would ever steal from apache is armed over watch of troops and even then only in the most low threat environments. Just seems like a massive case of jack of all trade’s and master of none; great if your Jordan and don’t have any of these capability’s already but if your the UK we already have very capable platforms. If there is a need for a tactical transport/small tanker demonstrated then we should buy C-265 for that job and sod all these expensive bolt on’s.

The Other Chris
October 7, 2014 2:38 pm

Not disagreeing with dropping Army Wildcat. RN could probably make use of the airframes whether we replace Apache or upgrade.

October 7, 2014 3:22 pm

The issue with the US/UK and Western approach is that we waste tens of billions on finding solutions to outlier scenarios, so as to avoid any casualties. etc etc when the chances are that these events are minimal and thanks to this design by fear and indecision approach we end up with far less capability and numbers thanks to huge delays, excessive complexity and solutions that end up needing huge logistical back up and highly trained staff.

You cannot design anything great by committee.

Mike W
October 7, 2014 3:25 pm

When I saw the word “gunships” in the title of the post, my thought immediately went to the C-130 “Spectre” gunship, used by the US Air force for close air support and force protection. It was/is very heavily armed and originally carried two 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannons, one Bofors 40mm cannon, and one 105 mm M102 gun. I suppose that was for rather different roles from those intended for the C-295. As Engineer Tom said, the C-130 it flew in a circle around the target, the idea being, I think, that such a movement allowed it to fire at the targets for a far longer period of time than a conventional attack aircraft could.

No suggestion that the C-295 could carry a 105 mm gun, is there? Highly effective, so I have heard reported.

October 7, 2014 3:32 pm


That’s really a good summation of it. More of an “interesting to know” rather than a “get this, preferably by yesterday”.

October 7, 2014 5:29 pm

Surely the issue is not whether the AAC could do with keeping a light utility, recce/shout helicopter. The issue is the current solution to that question and it’s high price-tag.

October 7, 2014 6:00 pm

I have wondered if you could fit longbow radar to other platforms like a Tucano to make a lightweight battlefield surveillance aircraft.
Other helicopters for that mater would benefit also if they could be fitted.


[…] And other nations are catching on as well. The latest is Jordan. Jordan teamed with ATK to field a conversion of the popular CN-235 light transport into the AC-235 g…. […]

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 8, 2014 12:28 am

Army helicopters/CAS:

The Army needs a Ford Transit type helicopter. Chuck shit in the back of it, whether fuel, rations or bricks of troops with perhaps a dog or an interpreter. The good thing about the Army Air Club is that they speak your language, the SO3 Aviation in Div HQ can be gripped by the throat if not instantly acquiescent to tasking and that you were probably at Sandhurst with him or shagged his cousin or know his mother and so can make his life difficult, the Whirly birds are close at hand and fly fast, and they are not crewed by Kevins who try to complain that the Moon is in Sagittarius or they are out of crew duty hours or similar excuses for not flying.

Apaches hover in cover. Something no Kevin has ever mastered. There’s cod all point in going too early or too late in an ambush.

You can actually speak to the little sods. RAF radios don’t work on the Div Net, and there’s never a FAC around when you need him.

October 8, 2014 7:27 pm

Any ideas whether this ‘flying gunship’ concept is precisely what we need for terrorists in pickups in Iraq and Syria?

Flying Tornados armed with Brimstones, Paveways and Stormshadows is an expensive business. We have Naval Gun fire because many of the alternatives are far too expensive. If this continues for years a flying gunship with EO/FLIR might offer a cheaper alternative to continuing with the Air Strikes and might even be more effective than Reapers.

It might be a way to use up old stocks of weapons but cannons sound cheaper…… I wonder what the payback period would be versus Brimstones? It doesn’t replace the Apache IMHO.

Brian Black
Brian Black
October 13, 2014 11:24 am

The operational premise behind Apache (and previously Lynx TOW) is that when WWIII kicks off in the 1980s, any high-flying gunship will be immediately cut to pieces by Soviet radar-targeted AAA.

Helicopters are needed to slink about in the tree tops over 1980s Germany; going higher is considered an instant kill. The later experience of Apache in combat is that the low level tactics of the Cold War lead to unacceptable loses, and that those loses rapidly fall off when they fly above 400m.

It’s not the case that no one in the ’80s considered that Apache might be engaged with small arms and RPGs if flitting about in tree tops; but the Cold War scenario is of preparing for total war. The choice back then is to fly high and lose the aircraft on day one of WWIII to radar-targeted heavy cannon fire, or fly low and lose the aircraft on day three or four to small arms fire.

Is either of those choices valid today, or will they be during the life of Apache E?

I would suggest that if there is a sophisticated enemy air defence system, it will not be desirable in the foreseeable future to subject a small but extremely expensive fleet of light, manned, attack aircraft to the small arms fire and consequent loses similar to those expected in the Cold War. And if there isn’t a sophisticated enemy air defence system, it will be preferable to fly at a higher altitude where the ability to hover is not so necessary. The wars we are more likely to fight are not wars of national survival, and are likely to be expeditionary in nature, and to be wars of choice; it’s not necessary or desirable to accept either the risks or compromises of Cold War equipment.

Using helicopters as light attack aircraft accepts various compromises for the singular benefit of vertical flight, which may well be driven by obsolete ideas of warfare. It’s quite likely that in future scenarios where we wouldn’t want to fly a C235 weapons carrier, we also wouldn’t want to fly Apache. And it’s arguable that with a Navy flight deck expanding from the size of Ocean to the size of Queen Elizabeth, that we don’t need Apache for litoral operations either; a small fixed-wing aircraft (smaller than the C235) could potentially carry the same weapons.

The Other Chris
October 13, 2014 11:54 am

Something that can be adapted to roles similar to an S-3B Viking?

Only current baseline aircraft that springs to mind that could operate from QE would be a V-22 Osprey.

Interesting line of thinking in that case.

October 13, 2014 12:25 pm

@BB, I quite buy into that thinking, exc for no Apache for littoral.

After all, it is the only A2G asset that can cross-deck, and one of the premises of littoral ops (from the sea) is that you will need to keep the enemy guessing… Where dividing the fleet is one of the means. Harassing here and there, but where will they come ashore?